The Zika Virus and The Cancer Patient: One More Thing to Worry About


As if you don’t have enough going on…the Zika virus has made the news because of its ability to severely damage the brains of fetuses in pregnant women with the virus. What’s less publicized is the other damage it can do to people with suppressed immune systems, potentially those being treated for cancer or recovering from cancer treatment, especially those living in Florida, the Gulf Coast states and Texas.

If you’re not pregnant but immune suppressed and you become infected with Zika you may get just a mild reaction such as a fever, joint pain and a rash, according to NPR. However there is an increased risk of severe problems for those whose immune systems are not what they should be. One of the possible severe problems is Guillain-Barré syndrome, according to the World Health Organization.

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare condition in which a person’s nerves are attacked by the immune system.
  • Most recover fully from even the most severe cases of Guillain-Barré.
  • The chest muscles can be affected, making it hard to breathe, in 20%-25% of people with the condition.
  • Severe cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome are rare, but can result in paralysis.

If you’re immune suppressed you may want to re-think that trip to the Caribbean, Central or South America. As far as a potential Zika threat in the U.S., NPR reports that the risk varies with location,

  • High-risk zone: Florida, the Gulf states into Texas because they have high densities of A. aegypti mosquitoes which carry Zika and two related viruses, dengue and chikungunya (Zika can also be sexually transmitted by a person with the virus).
  • Extremely low-risk zone: The northern half of the country, from northern New England across the north Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. These states don’t normally have the mosquito spreading Zika.
  • Low-risk zone: The rest of the country, including the Southeast, Southwest, the Mid-Atlantic states up to New York City and Long Island.

Mosquitoes, carrying Zika or not, are not a good thing. To limit your exposure to mosquitoes you can,

  • Wear long-lasting insect repellent, long sleeves and long pants, even during the daytime (when the mosquitoes with Zika normally bite).
  • Clean up your yard. Remove anything that could hold standing water where mosquitoes can breed. Mosquito larvae can develop in something as small as a water filled bottle cap.

There are probably bigger threats to your health than Zika, but if you can easily take precautions and not live in an area where the risk of an infection is higher it may be worth the effort.